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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Gone but not forgotten:
Jerel Ifil
 
Position: Central defender
From: Watford FC Academy
Record: Played: 10(1) Scored: 0
To: Swindon Town - 70,000 - July 2004
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: More phenomenon than footballer

Black, white, shades of grey. Bloody useless, bloody marvellous, not quite good enough, all of these at different moments, even within the same match. So many judgements, made, revoked, re-made, re-revoked, and so on, decisions on careers made over countless post-match beers. Until they're gone, a final profile gets written, and some spotty kid at the back of the Rookery arbitrarily decides whether they get jeered, abused or applauded if they ever return.

Next, please.

The utter, tragic futility of most of these simplistic judgements was amply illustrated by Jerel Ifil, even in just eleven appearances. Because he was just awesome...even going back to a friendly at QPR before the Vialli season, he was young and quick and phenomenally strong, all pluses and absolutely no minuses. Boundless promise. He looked immense, lithe and elegant like the very best, but with an imposing, massive frame that no striker could possibly dent or shift. Reports from three loan spells at Swindon only confirmed these impressions, heightened expectations.

Expectations that were immediately and spectacularly fulfilled by a sudden run in the first team in 2004. Then, as pressure built in the time-honoured tradition - that is, when the team's losing, any player in the reserves is automatically superior to any player in the starting eleven - he got his chance, and he seized it in truly jaw-dropping style. My word, it was something to behold, that yellow blur streaking across at a vital moment to barge a forward out of the way and clear the danger. For once, people were right - the player in the reserves was better than those who'd been keeping him out of the spotlight. He was ready, at last.

Ninety-five percent of the time, anyway. For the other five percent, he was day-dreaming, letting people ghost past him to score, or losing his man, or just nervously and sloppily making a bit of a hash of things. Which was exactly as Ray Lewington had described him, when fending off that afore-mentioned pressure. Like the class that gets kept behind because of one individual's misbehaviour, we were punished for those lapses, repeatedly and increasingly annoyingly. Until, after a defensive debacle at Ipswich in which Jerel Ifil certainly played his part, his manager felt that he'd been given his chance, that it was time for someone else to try.

He'd blown it, essentially. He'd fluffed his lines. By the end of the season, when an injury-decimated side travelled to West Ham and got thoroughly thrashed, his name wasn't even mentioned among the defensive alternatives. It was Dominic Blizzard or Lloyd Doyley, or a bloody big gap. (We chose the latter, natch.) And it was increasingly obvious that if Swindon maintained their interest, we'd take the cash and try to keep Sean Dyche instead...which was exactly what happened.

Jerel Ifil, then. A phenomenal athlete. But not a particularly good central defender. Not just yet, anyway.